Fair is foul, and foul is fair.
Such encapsulates the revered Shakespearean tragedy, “Macbeth,” and accurately represents the struggle that actors face when they must make the heavy choices that accompany its roles.
It is a play we all know in one way or another. Maybe you were forced to read it in high school, maybe you saw a film version on Netflix, or maybe you truly enjoy Shakespeare and the deeply powerful language that lies within the text. The story is about an ambitious man led by a manipulative, power-hungry wife to murder the king, take his place, and eliminate anything that blocks his path, right?
That’s what we learn. “Macbeth”—a play about a man who can best be described as “evil.” But what if it is so much more than that? Tara Herweg-Mann and Thomas Weaver want you to know that it is and aim to confront assumptions about Macbeth and Lady Macbeth during Gamut Theatre Group’s annual “Free Shakespeare in the Park.”
This production is set in the brutal world in which Macbeth would have lived—the middle of an 11th-century war, centuries before the play was written and almost a millennium before Gamut’s production. The life of royalty is far different than the pomp ceremony of later centuries, and according to Herweg-Mann, this will be highlighted in their production.
“It’s a dangerous place to exist whether you are of nobility or not,” she said.
The primitive nature is probably what inspires stereotypes around the play. There are witches, ghosts, murder, floating weapons and curses. It is even considered unlucky to say the name Macbeth within a theater; actors refer to it as “The Scottish Play” instead. With the superstition surrounding the play, taking on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is a daunting task itself, let alone trying to broaden understanding and challenge some of the assumptions about the characters.
Herweg-Mann has anticipated playing this role for a while, and she is not going to foil her opportunity to express her interpretation.
“Very often, people refer to Lady Mac[beth] and think ‘villain, evil woman,’” she said. “This is my chance to bring my view into it. I don’t think what she does comes from a place of evil; it comes from a place of love.”
She will show her audience how this woman is more than the face value of her actions. Accomplishing this involves not only meeting the expectations of how audiences typically interpret the Macbeths, but also showing who they are beyond that. Actors certainly feel that pressure.
“There are a lot of actors who are frightened of the play,” Weaver said. “I don’t think it’s superstition entirely. I don’t think it’s the curse. It’s that we may have to confront things about ourselves that we may not like.”
The pair aspires to uncover empathy for the Macbeths, showing that Shakespeare wrote them with powerful humanity. Their way of accomplishing this? Love. They do not intend to simply make their audience love the characters even if they do terrible things, but also to use the love their characters have for each other to show that everyone faces similar problems, even if they don’t resolve their conflicts by committing murder.
Herweg-Mann, in her characterization of Lady Macbeth, draws from her own experience by focusing on the love she has for her own husband and for her acting partner.
“I find it very easy to care about what happens to him,” she said of Weaver. “I use that, then think of my own husband—I would do anything for him. It is not unknown to me to care about someone to that extent, so I lean on that.”
Weaver agrees that Macbeth’s choices are a testament of love.
“It all goes back to his wife,” he said. “He wants to help her achieve greatness, but he also recognizes—she can only get so far. The least he can do is make her a queen, because she deserves it.”
These are hard emotions to confront, and some actors choose not to do so. Others, like Herweg-Mann and Weaver, see the importance of it. If an evil person is actually human, the tragedy of their demise becomes far more devastating.
“I am hoping to show a man who made a horrible decision, just like we all do,” he said. “He is terrified and riddled with guilt. It is important to see what these actions can do to a human being.”
With these character elements and the vivid language of the text, Gamut intends to use the outdoor setting of Reservoir Park to force the audience into the world where these actions could happen. Nature is prevalent both within the play and the presentation of it.
“So much of the supernatural in the play happens outdoors, and, in the park, nature surrounds you,” said Herweg-Mann.
In the park, they are not constrained to the four walls of the theater or reliant on special effects.
“Not having use of lighting and other effects forces us to find the frightening aspects of the text and story,” Weaver said. “That is a cool challenge.”
By giving the audience an immersive experience, the characters become not only more human but more alive, and, therefore, more frightening.
The play is revered for many reasons, and the evil, supernatural, hardly scratches the surface. It depicts a country suffering from a life-threatening illness from which it may not survive. The illness is ambition, and the pervasive nature of it affects everyone in this world. The horror presides, regardless of the amount of love, and no one is safe.
“Macbeth,” Gamut Theatre’s selection for “Free Shakespeare in the Park,” runs June 2 to 17 in Reservoir Park, Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.gamuttheatre.org.
Upcoming Theater Events at Gamut Theatre
24th Annual Free Shakespeare in the Park
June 2 to 17, Wednesday to Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Reservoir Park, Harrisburg
The Popcorn Hat Players Present
“Rollicking Ripsnorters: American Tall Tales”
June 7 to 17, Saturdays, 1 p.m., Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. available by request for groups of 20 or more.
Tickets are $8
Author: Meghan Jones